As women are the ones who get pregnant there is a lot of attention on their health and wellbeing. But when a couple are planning a pregnancy, it’s important that men are healthy too.
Improving your health can improve your fertility (ability to get pregnant) and the future health of your child.
Top tips for planning a pregnancy for men
- Cut down your alcohol intake to no more than 3-4 units a day.
- Quit smoking, even passive smoking affects female fertility and pregnancy.
- Get tested for STIs if there is any reason you think you are at risk of having one.
- Lose weight if you have a high BMI.
- Keep testicles (balls) cool (slightly below body temperature) by
- avoiding hot showers and sitting in hot baths
- avoiding saunas, jacuzzis or sitting for long periods with a laptop on your lap
- wearing loose trousers and underwear.
- avoiding cycling and/or sitting down for long periods.
- Eat five portions a day of fruit and vegetables, including walnuts.
- Exercise for at least 20-30 minutes three times a week.
- Talk to your doctor if you have sickle cell disease or thalassaemia or if your ancestors are from a country that means you might be at higher risk of being a carrier (Africa, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, India, Pakistan, south and southeast Asia, and the Middle East).
Smoking and fertility
Smoking can cause fertility problems in men. It can:
- reduce the quality of sperm
- cause a lower sperm count
- affect the sperm’s ability to swim (motility)
- cause male sexual impotence (inability to get or maintain an erection).
The good news is that stopping smoking can reverse the damage.
To get support to quit smoking sign up for the NHS Smoke-free emails.
Secondhand smoke is highly toxic. Most of it is invisible and doesn’t smell. If you smoke and your partner does not, you need to be aware that secondhand smoke (also known as passive smoking) can affect their fertility and health.
Breathing in the smoke from your cigarettes can damage their ability to get pregnant. Opening windows and doors or smoking in another room will not make it safe.
Helping your partner to quit
If your partner smokes, support her to quit. Smoking can cause serious complications in pregnancy and increases the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth.
If you smoke too, she is less likely to quit.
Smokers who get support from family and friends are more likely to stop. Try and quit smoking together. There is lots of support to help you.
Alcohol and fertility
Drinking too much can affect your fertility.
Regularly drinking alcohol above recommended levels can cause problems with fertility for men and women.
The recommended limit is 14 units of alcohol per week. People who drink as much as 14 units per week should spread this evenly over 3 days or more.
In men, drinking too much alcohol can cause:
- loss of interest in sex
- reduced testosterone levels
- low sperm quality and quantity.
The good news is these effects can be reversed if you stop drinking too much.
Doctors have agreed that the safest thing for women to do is not drink any alcohol at all if they’re are actively trying for a baby. Many men support their partner by cutting down or avoiding alcohol too when they are getting pregnant and afterwards.
Weight and fertility
Having an overweight or obese BMI can affect the quality and quantity of your sperm, which can contribute to fertility problems. Your weight may also have an effect on your child’s DNA, making them more likely to have a high BMI themselves.
Your BMI (Body Mass Index) is a measure that uses your height and weight to work out if your weight is healthy.
For most adults, a BMI of:
- less than18.5 = underweight
- 18.5 to 24.9 = healthy weight
- 25 to 29.9 = overweight
- 30 to 39.9 = obese
- 40 or more =severely obese
Nutrition and fertility
In planning a pregnancy, men can also improve their fertility by looking at their diet. Research has shown that sperm quality is affected by diet. The foods that have a positive effect on fertility are very similar to those shown to have a positive effect for women’s fertility.
- Diets high in processed meat, alcohol, caffeine, red meat, saturated fatty acids and trans fats were linked to low quality semen.
- Diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish were linked to better semen quality.
Eating a portion of walnuts a day has been shown to have a help sperm motility (ability to swim).
STIs and fertility
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are passed from one person to another through unprotected sex (sex without using contraception, such as a condom) or genital contact.
Common symptoms of an STI include:
- unusual discharge from the penis or anus
- a rash
- itchiness, lumps, skin growths, blisters or sores around the genitals or anus
- pain when urinating.
Chlamydia and gonorrhoea are two of the most common STIs in the UK. Both can be cured with antibiotics but lead to infertility in men and women if they are not treated.
The risk of infertility is lower in both conditions if they are treated early. The more times you have gonorrhoea, the more likely you are to have complications.
Many people with chlamydia and gonorrhoea don’t experience any symptoms at all.
However, most STIs have no symptoms or only mild symptoms that you may not realise are caused by an infection.
This means that many people who have an STI will not know they are infected and will pass it on to any sexual partners.
If you have any reason to believe you may have an STI, talk to your partner as some STIs affect a developing baby. Treatment can prevent this.
The best places to go are a genito-urinary medicine (GUM) clinic, sexual health clinic, your GP or a young people’s clinic.
All information given will be kept confidential, and the tests are only done with your permission.
The testicles (balls) are outside the body instead if inside because they need to be kept slightly cooler than the rest of you to produce high quality sperm. The best temperature for sperm is slightly below body temperature.
If you're planning a pregnancy, you may want to try to avoid overheating your testicles. For example,
- don’t have a warm laptop on your lap for long periods
- avoid saunas or hot baths
- if you sit still for long periods, get up and move around regularly
- if you work in a hot environment, like a kitchen or a bakery take regular breaks outside.
Wearing tight underwear or tight trousers makes your testicles hotter as it pushes them closer to the body. Although tight underwear hasn’t been shown in research to affect sperm quality, you may want to wear loose-fitting underwear and trousers, such as boxer shorts instead.
Stress can affect your relationship and lower your or your partner’s sex drive. This may reduce how often you have sex. Severe and ongoing stress can also limit sperm production.
Trying to conceive a baby can be stressful, especially if you have been trying for a while. It’s important that you and your partner take time to relax. You may find these stress relief tips helpful if you are finding that it is becoming harmful to your relationship.
Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, some soft drinks and energy drinks.
High levels of caffeine during pregnancy has been linked to miscarriage and low birth weight. There is also some medical evidence that men consuming too much caffeine while you trying to conceive can increase the risk of miscarriage. The evidence suggests that this applies to both women and men.
If you’re planning to conceive, you and your partner may find it helpful to get into the habit of limiting your caffeine intake to 200mg a day. This is around two mugs of instant coffee a day or one mug of filter coffee. Calculate your caffeine intake here.
Sickle cell and thalassaemia
Sickle cell disease (SCD) and thalassaemia are blood disorders you inherit through your family. If you are a carrier of sickle cell or thalassaemia, you can pass these conditions on to your baby.
These conditions affect haemoglobin, a part of the blood that carries oxygen around the body. People who have these conditions will need specialist care throughout their lives.
It is important to know whether your baby is at risk because babies with sickle cell disease can receive early treatment, including immunisations and antibiotics.
This, along with support from their parents, will help prevent serious illness and allow the child to live a healthier life.
When to get help with fertility
It usually takes several months to conceive so if you’ve been trying for a baby for about a year (or 6 months if your partner is 35 or over) without success then it’s probably a good time to see your GP, either with your partner or separately.
This content is currently being reviewed by our team. Updated information will be coming soon.